Writing Human Rights
This course investigates the history of human rights from the perspective of literature. We will explore how rights are represented and narrated in novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and how their founding declarations—famously, the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)—rely on fictional structures. While attending to some of the more politically contentious issues involved with human rights, such as the claim that universal rights lack political and legal enforcement, we will also consider: how does fiction help articulate and represent claims to universality? Why might a political philosopher turn to a work of fiction in order to make an argument about human rights? What can close attention to literary style teach us about the limitations of rights declarations? Authors to be read in this course include: Hannah Arendt, Edmund Burke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, Mary Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft. We will also engage with legal scholars and human rights activists in the Salem area.
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